Arsène Wenger: The Beginnings – Themes and Philosophy through the lens of AS Monaco vs. Galatasaray 1989 – Part 1

Twenty-two years ago Arsène Wenger’s AS Monaco were one of the best football sides in France. The manager, who had been relegated to Division 2 in 1987 at cash strapped AS Nancy-Lorraine, had led his new Monaco team to the French championship in 1988, winning Coach of the Year award and qualifying for the European Cup in the process.

The following European campaign began inauspiciously in Iceland; a 1-0 defeat to giants Valur Reykjavík was attended by only 4,000. However Wenger recovered and led his side, including an in-form Glenn Hoddle and newly signed African starlet, George Weah to a Quarter final against Galatasaray, after destroying Club Brugge 6-1 in the preceding round, with Wenger signing Jose Touré in particularly stunning form.

The Quarter final against Galatasaray was surely one of the biggest games of Arsène’s career. This was in fact only the second taste of European football for Wenger, the first coming whilst playing for RC Strasbourg many years earlier, as reporter Michael Kapfer reminisced:

“The away leg of a UEFA Cup tie in the German town of Duisberg…was the only European tie he ever played. He played as a central defender in the away leg. It was an absolute disaster as Strasbourg lost 4-0.”

An unhappy start, but the second coming of Wenger had been the complete opposite, and by March 1989, Wenger’s side were sure favourites for the Quarter final against the Turkish club. Wenger had even been to Turkey personally to watch Galatasaray lose 1-0 to Konyaspor on New Year’s Eve in Turkey.

Wenger in Turkey in 1988 to watch Galatasaray and Konyaspor.

Talking Tactics

The draw for the 1989 Quarter final pitted Monaco against Turkish Champions Galatasaray, with the first leg at home, in Stade Louis II. The most fascinating aspect of the first leg against Galatasaray is the perspective it provides on Arsène Wenger’s tactical longevity.

During 2010, ahead of the epic 2-2 Champions League semi-final against Barcelona at the Emirates, a journalist insinuated that Arsenal’s 4-3-3 system was simply a copy of Barçelona’s. However, Wenger’s curt response put paid to that theory:

“I played 4-3-3 before Barçelona…I played 4-3-3 at Monaco and I think Barçelona have not created that system. That system is a Dutch system.”

The ‘Dutch system’ of Total football during the 1960s and 70s is one of Wenger’s greatest influences, and at Arsenal guided him in

“Building a team with a style, a know-how, with a culture of play specific to the club and it’s fans and with young people,”

The 4-3-3 system there was a pinnacle of attacking football, and there is little doubt that Wenger, born in 1949 would have been the perfect age to absorb that magical Ajax team of the 1970s, including Haan, Keizer and Cruyff.

At AS Monaco he is known for playing an attacking, and flexible 4-4-2, but not without experimentation. Wenger’s 4-3-3 claim is true. The way the team lined-up for the Quarter-final on the 1st of March 1989 was indeed akin to the 4-3-3 Wenger referred to twenty-one years later.

Now famous names such as Weah, Hoddle, and Puel graced the side on a night at the Stade Louis II, but one which only holds glorious memories for Galatasaray. The Monaco side lined up with two fast lanky wide men, in the form of Fofana, and Weah on the left and right respectively, whilst Hateley played as the single striker.

Central midfield comprised the more defensive Poullain, with Puel alongside, and Ferratge as the creative impetus. The defence saw two Wenger signings, Sonor partnering Battiston whilst Monaco legend Amoros, a product of the Monaco youth system, and Valery were the respective full-backs.  In goal the experienced Jean Luc Ettori took charge, a player who appeared in for Monaco over 20 years, in three decades. Whilst another Englishman, Hoddle, took the sole substitute slot.

Jean-Luc Ettori, Monaco stalwart and long-time servant.

The Big Match

Arsène’s attacking style was clear, although both legs of the Quarter final were rather scrappy affairs, broken up by a Galatasaray team desperate for success in Europe, high on the adrenaline rush that comes with gracing football’s most famous stage. An homage to the Ajax total football sides of the 1970s this was not, but surely the experience was a formative one in terms of Wenger’s European experiences.

Monaco conceded relatively early on in the first half to Galatasaray striker Çolak. This meant that for much of the game they were desperately pushing up the field for a goal.

The goal when it came was one which the current Arsenal side could easily be envisaged conceding. Monaco lost possession in the opponents half, and Valery, the right back was caught out of position, coming into the centre circle to attempt to win the ball back. Galatasaray kept possession efficiently, moving forward quickly and spread the play into the space on their left.

The ball came in for the cross, and whilst there were six Monaco players in the box, including the out of position right back, the single Galatasaray striker, Çolak got the better of the defender and goalkeeper at the far post to poke the cross home.

Galatasaray’s goal was caused partly by the out of position RB Valery (yellow). The two Galatasaray players are highlighted in pink. Note the five Monaco players in the box.

It was an unexpected goal for the Turkish side, who were playing a rugged and defensive game, looking to hit Monaco on the break, as might be expected for underdogs playing away in Europe. The scrappy nature of the game prevented either side building possession, and it was rare to see more than two passes strung together.

Second Half

Mark Hateley, the lone striker, was injured after a collision with the Galatasaray keeper late in the first half, and after half time, a rather younger looking Glenn Hoddle donned his knee strapping and took to the field, playing in the hole behind George Weah, who moved to the centre from the right. The formation didn’t change for the second half, Ferratge simply moved to the right wing, which allowed Hoddle to take up his preferred role in the hole.

After half time another switch was to Sonor from centre back went out right full back. Whether this was because of his pace or just due to the restriction to one sub is unclear. What is clear is that in the second half Monaco were able to cross the ball much closer to the by-line.

Monaco knocked at the Turkish door again and again, but too often couldn’t build cohesion, and the frustration was telling. The Turkish side sat back in numbers, and tackled hard, looking to break up play and counter-attack.

Ultimately it was a game of few fantastic chances. There are many continuities in Wenger’s style, and his selection habits. The type of footballing philosophy he espoused was not radically different, but most obviously in its early stages, Wenger having relatively little top level management experience up until that point.

One interesting tendency was for the centre backs to come forward and play out of defence, this is an aspect of play emulated by Steve Bould and Tony Adams for the final Arsenal goal in the 4-0 defeat of Everton at Highbury to close the league campaign of the 1997/98 Double win.

The style of football was fast and frenetic, and somewhat different to the modern Wenger sides. The most notable feature of the team that night was the fact that George Weah dropped so deep on the right, in effect he and Fofana were wide players in a 4-3-3 or five man midfield, with star striker Mark Hateley playing in the centre as a lone number 9 for much of the first half. This was effectively the 4-3-3 which Arsène referred to in his 2010 press conference.

An example of the formation in midfield. Weah near field, and Fofana far are highlighted in dark blue. They were the wide players on either side of a trio of central midfielders (light blue). Valery the right back is highlighted yellow.

The main avenue of attack for the Monaco team was lofted balls down the flanks, with interchanges of passing between the wingers Fofana and Weah and the full-backs Amoros and Valery, who pushed on the overlap often, generally crossing the ball into the box from deep.

A key method of attack. Weah (blue line) is deep, playing the ball over the top to Valery just out of frame (yellow arrow marking run. Puel is also in shot showing his central position whilst at top are Ferratge and Fofana.

Fofana and Weah were both pacey players utilised on the flanks to different effect. For most of the game Fofana used his pace to attack the left flank, running hard to the by-line, and putting crosses in. Weah in some respects actually played deeper, often trying to dribble the ball forward, cutting inside from deep or playing the ball over the top to the overlapping Valery. Indeed most of the passing triangles and attacking play centred on the right side of the field, where Weah and Ferratge switched position and played passes with Valery the right back, and Puel playing deeper in central midfield.

The central midfielders Puel, Poullain and Ferratge made for particularly interesting watching. Puel and Ferratge were especially fluid throughout the game, and especially in the first half, when Puel would switch from left to right, tracking back and forward as needed. Certainly Puel, now a title winning manager himself at Lyon, was a real force sweeping across midfield.

His partner in crime Ferratge was the centre of much of the play, running like a hare and getting into dangerous positions regularly. In the second half he played on the right wing in place of Weah, allowing Hoddle to take the role in the hole, but still contributed.

It was fascinating to see a young George Weah playing on the right, and his skills were impressive, but the side did seem to lack cohesion. Even when switched to the centre, he couldn’t fashion enough goalscoring chances. The night may have not showcased the team properly, and Wenger still had not fully built his own squad. The Galatasaray side defended resolutely, and although Monaco desperately pushed high up the pitch, pounding the legendary goalkeeper Simovic, they could not find a way to penetrate that Turkish ‘castle’.

Understanding Themes

For Galatasaray this was one of ‘the’ glorious European nights. The 1988/89 season saw them progress to the semi-finals of the European cup, the furthest they have ever reached in the competition. The fact that it was an away victory is also surprising, as Turkish sides rarely won away against quality opposition.

This result also provides Wenger the ignominious record of allowing Galatasaray their best ever European Cup campaign in 1989, reaching the semi finals, and their first European trophy, losing the 2000 UEFA Cup final to Galatasaray, after a scrappy game in Copenhagen.

Here we’ve seen an antecedent to the 4-3-3 that Wenger plays at Arsenal, and the background of some of the flowing attacking football he favours. Certainly there are similarties to a side containing ultra fast Fofana, and the midfield grit of Puel and Ferratge, with overlapping full-backs. Just look at the speed of Walcott and Nasri today, or the guile of Cesc Fabregas the current centre of the team, whilst full-backs from Lauren to Clichy have always bombed forward under Wenger.

The game is a fascinating not only for tactics, but for the context it is set in. Wenger’s time at Monaco was certainly formative in terms of his footballing philosophy and the methods he used in manipulating the transfer market. The themes continued to develop throughout his time with Monaco, and in some ways the project he built there is a less successful parallel of the project at Arsenal. Youth and stability are ideas which formed much earlier in Wenger’s career than just Arsenal, the groundwork was laid years before, evolving at AS Nancy-Lorraine, and furthermore at Monaco with the likes of Weah, Djourkaeff and Henry as just a few examples.

Arsenal Football Club is now moulded in the form of Wenger, much like Manchester United is a reflection of Alex Ferguson. To understand how the club has come to be formed as such, it is crucial to understand the man behind it, and that only comes from looking at their past. On Thursday the second part of our Wenger series looks at some of the themes of Wenger at Monaco, and concludes the 1988/89 season, as we move deeper into the character of Arsène Wenger.

Team Line-Ups: AS Monaco vs. Galatasaray, European Cup Quarter-Final Leg 1, 1 March 1989, Stade Louis II

Monaco: 1 Ettori, Jean Luc; 2 Amoros, Manuel; 3 Valery, Patrick; 4 Sonor, Luc; 5 Battiston, Patrick; 6 Poullain, Fabrice; 7 Puel, Claude; 8 Ferratge, Jean Marc; 9 Hateley, Mark (Hoddle, Glenn on ’46); 10 Weah, George; 11 Fofana, Youssouf. Manager: Arsène Wenger

Galatasaray: 1 Simovic, Zoran; 2 Demiriz, Ismail (Yıldız, Metin on ‘87); 3 Yuvakuran, Semih; 4 Altıntaş, Yusuf; 5 Tanman, Cüneyt; 6 Korkmaz, Bülent; 7 Prekazi, Xhevat; 8 Altıntaş, Muhammed; 9 Tütüneker, Uğur; 10 Çolak, Tanju (Goalscorer); 11 Önal, Erhan. Manager: Mustafa Denizli

Part of a series on Arsène Wenger’s early career – Nancy, Monaco and more

14 thoughts on “Arsène Wenger: The Beginnings – Themes and Philosophy through the lens of AS Monaco vs. Galatasaray 1989 – Part 1

  1. Great piece mate, really enjoyed that.

    Just shows how innovative Wenger was/is always willing to try new things and the ability to think on his feet with regards to changes.

    Wonderful work.

      1. andy p

        James – thanks again, I really appreciate that you are doing some great research and give some of us an insight into the great arsene wenger who has won a manager of the decade award. I think he is the best man for the job but I am only human and a gambler, for I sometimes rather naively think that the club should get rid of 3 or 4 players (rather naively ofcourse) and buy one world class player. Who when he gets injured leaves us badly lacking in squad depth! When I get frustrated it is mainly because of the comments that get shot at wenger and the squad who I am sure are playing their hearts out and are just fatigued by the fact that they run the most in the premier league and cant be fresh every game and some fans start turning on them and leave the stadium early and swear around kids and cause all sorts of disharmony.

        I always like to compare arsenal, tottenham and liverpool from a few years back when benitez first took charge and I look at liverpool now after the millions they spent and how much tottenham have spent to reach where they are and it is amazing that during this period, wenger pretty much SOLD his best players and is still doing better in the league than the tottenhams and liverpools of this world.

        If any other manager came to manage arsenal with this squad, they would be a mid table team. Arsene keeps them close to the top of the league (but obviously not top of the league which is impossible to do with such a squad)

        So I look forward to reading all your future posts on this.

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  3. Arvind

    Indeed. A very nice read. I wonder why we don’t see more articles like the above everywhere. Thanks for the hard work 🙂

  4. andy p

    it is interesting and I guess the penalty that Leeds won at the emirates does highlight the need to have a better squad or one that has played together much longer competitively. By playing “pass and move” all the time, getting caught out of possession, which arsenal do get all the time results in some pretty devastating counter attacks. this is pretty much how we get beat by all the big teams.
    You could argue they have a better squads than us, or you could argue that the 4 3 3 or whatever we call it now that we play requires the best fullbacks and wingers in the game to be a true success. I dont think when we have eboue at right back we have the best fullback. Bless, i love eboue but if he has bombed forward and the winger is not covering him there is a huge gap on the flank.
    Time and time again we push up high, yet lack the personnel to play this system. Look at how ipswich scored – their player , although offside is faster than our defenders who had no hope of catching him. I think wengers formations are fine at times, but at other times, just dont work defensively and we get caught and battered. A better tactic would have been to grind out a draw at ipswich or play counter attack football. Instead ipswich played defensively and counter attacked arsenal and won.

    I think it is that time of the season for the team to fall apart again like it keeps doing year after year. arsenal players run the most , get burnt out the quickest, and ultimately cannot last a whole season. And also they get kicked around the most it seems.

    I love wengerball, I love arsenal, and I see us having a decent season, but I dont expect any silverware.

    Our teams overachieve time and time again, but ultimately arent good enough to be the very best on this shoe string budget…

    We buy 4 gifted youngsters for 30 million, and man city will buy 1 player who is already firing on all cylinders. We wont see any return on our 30 million for 5 or 6 years. Man city will see their 30 million either be a big hit or a huge flop immediately. Take teves as the hit and adebayor as the flop. Thats 55 million spent on just 2 players. Arsenal just cant compete with that, yet we are close to the top of the division and that is why I love wenger. But we will never be the best until this team matures for 4 or 5 years and that is provided none of the best players leave. That is a long term project and fans want success 5 years ago…

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